The startup founder/investor relationship is a marriage of sorts. Like any long-term union, there are ups and downs, and it requires effort and commitment to maintain a strong and lasting relationship.
When the connection between the founding team and investors is weak and faltering, it can be a source of anxiety for everyone involved, and ultimately can hurt the company’s chances for growth and success. By contrast, a strong relationship built on mutual trust and communication can be a boon for the company and investors.
Three experienced startup founders shared their advice on how to cultivate a strong and lasting relationship with investors. Canh Tran is cofounder and CEO of Rippleshot, a fraud analytics firm using predictive technology to provide a cutting-edge breach detection solution. Jeffrey Eschbach is cofounder and CEO of Page Vault, a web archiving platform for legal professionals to easily capture and print webpage content. Aksh Gupta is cofounder and CEO of Occasion, an online scheduling and booking ecommerce platform for service-based businesses.
Here are the five tips the founders believe are key to a strong and lasting investor relationship:
1) Always have honest communication
Investors want to know what is going on with your company – the good news, of course, but more importantly the challenges and setbacks. Being honest about the company’s growth, product, and market goes a long way in establishing trust.
Treat investors like an extension of your team by keeping them up to date on key initiatives, and seeking their advice often. As hard as it may be, always report bad news. Not only is it a fiduciary duty but it builds trust.
2) Provide frequent and thorough updates
Whether through regularly scheduled updates (at least quarterly) or as needed, these communications are essential for keeping investors informed and engaged. For example, Page Vault includes details on revenue, key performance indicators (KPIs), the product roadmap, team growth, marketing, successes, and pain-points.
Occasion provides both short and material updates to accommodate the needs, styles, and interests of different investors. One method is to attempt to deliver value from these emails in less than 4 seconds and then attach a full update in case investors want to see more. This accomplishes two goals: you get a higher response from people who like bite-sized emails, and you receive good advice and suggestions from those who looked through the presentation.
3) Be clear on your ask
Many investors want to be involved and help the business, not just foot the bill. An invaluable resource, investors can share their expertise and open up their networks.
By including specific asks in your updates, investors have the opportunity to help on key issues and get involved. You can get feedback on your pitch deck, introductions to key people, and help with strategy discussions. Always follow up afterwards to say thank you and report on how things unfolded.
4) Choose your investors wisely
Find a key lead investor that believes in you, your team, and the product. Rippleshot has found that a lead investor can help you round out the raise, and one that has expertise in your field can bring in contacts, network, and advice.
Do your due diligence on the investors and ask for references. Your investors should be on the same page in terms of vision for the company. Investors like to know that other investors are also interested in funding your company. There is a validation effect.
5) Start the investor relationship early
Reach out to potential investors and cultivate a relationship before you actually ask for an investment. Talking to potential investors before fundraising takes the pressure off and allows you to get critical, early feedback.
There’s the adage ‘If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.’ The folks you initially engage for feedback will get to know you over time and are ultimately more likely to invest. If your first interaction with someone is during a fundraising phase to request money, don’t be surprised to get feedback on why they need to pass on the opportunity.
We will explore this topic, and other trends in Chicago’s technology market, at FoleyTECH Chicago, taking place on May 3, 2016. The half-day event will provide a wealth of insights and best practices from leading technology executives, entrepreneurs and investors. To attend, simply RSVP here.
This blog post was contributed by Catapult Chicago, a selective community of technology startups in Chicago that have demonstrated business traction. A unique cross between an incubator and a coworking space, Catapult is home to serious entrepreneurs committed to leading their companies to the next stage of growth. Foley is a founding sponsor of Catapult and continues to offer pro bono counsel to Catapult residents. Catapult is a partner sponsor at the upcoming FoleyTECH Chicago event.